“Should” we see Salish influence in Chinuk Wawa commands?


(Image credit: Oxford Dictionaries blog)

A hot lead, or a cold “should”er?

Today’s dig into linguistic archaeology brings us the chance to reconsider previous investigators’ findings…

ʔayúɬ ‘should’ is presented as a root, entry #69, in M. Dale Kinkade’s 1991 Upper Chehalis Salish dictionary. The accompanying examples show it occurring only at the beginning of sentences.

There are no comparable roots listed in dictionaries of the neighboring sister languages Quinault or Cowlitz…which may be a clue that this is not an old established form.

More revealing: this “root” can actually be analyzed into smaller meaningful parts, judging by a comparison with the very closely related Lower Chehalis:

  • ʔay is actually root #95, ʔə́y ‘good’
  •  is actually a particle w that’s a kind of Subjunctive (“Irrealis”), even though I’m having a hard time finding it in that dictionary!
  • ɬ is actually a particle too, entry #811, explained as “unrealized, future” by Kinkade

Plus, the source that it’s recorded from is Franz Boas’s field data, which in my experience frequently have to have their stress-mark placement corrected, and often vacillate between /ə/ (schwa) and /a/.

Saying that in plainer English:

ʔayúɬ is the exact Southwest Washington Salish translation for, and is used in same place in sentences as, Chinuk Wawa’s ɬúsh-pus (literally ‘good-if’) ‘should’ / a common way to form Imperatives (commands).

Is any other of the 4 main source languages of the Jargon quite so likely to have been a model for the Chinuk Wawa formation?

I rule out French and English immediately. Neither is likely to commonly say “(It would be) good if…” as a frequent way of commanding someone, not even as a politeness strategy, since both of these Indo-European words instead say “please”. (Or, in French, use a polite pronoun.) Do my Francophones ‘n’ English talkers agree?

So then…Lower Chinookan? Now, most of the imperatives — at least the transitive ones — show in Boas’s 1910 “Sketch” of that language are like those in English and French, as well one frequent Chinuk Wawa strategy, in lacking a subject pronoun. (They have object affixes. The intransitive imperatives do have subject affixes, i.e. Lower Chinookan likes its commands to have just one pronoun.) But I did find one “good if” formulation, on page 650 (and it seems to occur just on page 12 of Boas’s 1894 “Chinook Texts” when I search that volume):

t̓ayá qiá m-kƛ̓ímn
good if you-dive’
‘dive!’ [translation taken from Boas 1894:19]

(Notice that the verb here is intransitive, therefore indistinguishable from a plain old command!)

(Tangential comment: I’m wondering if that root –kƛ̓ímn can be related to the Lower Chinookan and Chinuk Wawa ƛ̓ə́mn (t’ɬímin) ‘mashed, mixed, soft, muddy’.)

My impression is that this particular expression is extremely rare in Lower Chinookan. If so, perhaps it’s an aberration, influenced by the narrator Charles Cultee’s known high fluency in Chinuk Wawa.

For the time being, the data available to us indicate that the Jargon’s ɬúsh-pus is yet another grammatical structure in the pidgin-creole that reflects Salish more than any other influence.